Imagine a place where fresh strawberries peek from happy pint-size baskets; where tomatoes ripe with flavor and fresh for the choosing are strewn across the top of a table. Imagine local honey and eggs — even cheese — at a place so nearby you might just decide to walk instead of drive.
The Atlanta area has blossomed in recent years with the opening of farmers markets and community-supported agriculture. Urban farms such as Gaia Gardens and Able 2 Farm are sprouting across the metro area. Ordinary folks (maybe your neighbors, depending on the regulations of the county you live in) are keeping chickens and bees in their backyards.
The local food movement has taken root in Georgia, and our farmers markets are sustainable, seasonal goods’ greatest marketing campaign. According to Georgia Organics, the number of producer-only markets has increased from 12 in 2004, to 85 in 2009.
“Increased consumer awareness of food safety issues and environmental concerns has led to a new level of demand for sustainably produced local food,” said Michael Wall, communications director of Georgia Organics. “This is a full-blown movement fueled by consumer demand, truly pushed from the ground up. I think people are more informed because, thankfully, the science behind the dangers of pesticides is getting more robust. Another story came out ... linking certain pesticide residues with [attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder] in children. That rightfully worries parents. And of course, the obesity epidemic has many people searching for solutions, which inevitably leads back to food.”
A crop of cookbooks has capitalized on the country’s return to the farm, from James Beard award-winner Deborah Madison’s classic “Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating From America’s Farmers’ Markets” (Broadway Books, $26) to the newly crafted “Southern Living Farmers Market Cookbook” (Oxmoor House, $29.95).
This new book takes a look at markets from season to season, and offers tips on selecting and storing fresh produce, as well as listings of farmers markets and food festivals across the South, including Savannah’s Shrimp & Grits Festival in September and Taste of Atlanta in October. For a comprehensive listing of local markets, check out the AJC’s online guide at www.ajc.com or go to www.georgiaorganics.org for a complete list of local and sustainable markets. Supporting these markets will help all our gardens grow, literally, but we’ve still got a long way to go.
“The local food movement is absolutely taking shape in Georgia, thanks to the great symbiosis between passionate chefs and dedicated farmers,” Wall said. “We’ve come a long way but we’re still fledglings in some ways, especially when it comes to the actual number of certified organic acres in Georgia. It’s dismal, less than one percent of farmable land.”
So if the fresh tomatoes, fragrant basil and promise of a healthier diet don’t lure you, consider this: Farmers markets are just fun to visit. Many offer chef demonstrations, freshly baked bread and local artisans between aisles of okra and tomatoes. And you can get to know the farmers who grow the food, too — that guy or gal behind the picnic table is probably someone who regularly gets their hands dirty — in a good way.
Dr. Teri Hamlin
North Region Agriculture Education
Georgia Department of Education
204C Four Towers University of Georgia
Athens, Ga 30602
706-542-3679 / 706-540-0032
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